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When Old School Is Out-of-the-Box: Print Magazines as Content Marketing

Yvonne Lyons | May 31, 2016
Print Magazines as Content Marketing

Digital content is exploding on the Internet as companies embrace content marketing and seek to further their thought leadership.

Everyone is publishing: blog posts, white papers and eBooks, content in email marketing and marketing automation, posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Online, we are drowning in content.

The amount of content we are bombarded with is so overwhelming and repetitive that some savvy brands are rediscovering a more traditional path to engage “eyeballs.” They’re going back to print magazines. In fact, about 36 percent of B2B marketers use print magazines, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 survey on content marketing efforts.

This isn’t new stuff; it used to be “custom publishing,” even as long ago as 1895 when the John Deere Company began publishing The Furrow. Should you think about a magazine to stand out in the crowded content marketplace? It’s not for everyone, but here’s what you need to know to figure out if it might be for you.

Companies becoming publishers
Print is enjoying a resurgence of sorts, not by traditional media firms but by corporations becoming publishers. One of the newest print magazine entrants and one headlining many a marketing conference is Porter, a fashion magazine launched in early 2014 by luxury retailer Net-A-Porter.

The magazine has been very successful, with subscribers increasing spending by 125 percent and increasing visits to the firm’s website by 25 percent, said Tess Macleod-Smith, vice president, publishing and media division, Net-A-Porter Group, in this interview with FIPP, the worldwide magazine media association.

Big brands such as Red Bull, which publishes The Red Bulletin, and the Four Seasons have embraced the world of print in the past few years. But magazines aren’t just for the big guys. Smaller businesses, like Dixon, a company that manufactures valves and couplings out of Chestertown, Maryland, has had huge success with its quarterly magazine, Boss. The magazine has nothing to do with valves or couplings, but rather “explores the world and its industries,” and captivates the Dixon audience.

All of these “brand publishers” say that offering quarterly or monthly magazines helps them connect more deeply with customers, establishes thought leadership in a more meaningful way, and distinguishes them from competitors. Other reasons companies cite to launch print magazines include:

  • Fostering a sense of membership and boosting loyalty
  • Reaching audiences that enjoy the tactile experience of reading a magazine, which people spend more time with, and keep for longer periods of time
  • Allowing customers to escape digital overload
  • Standing out in mailboxes at a time when the amount of direct mail has dropped dramatically
  • Increasing revenues when linking magazine content to digital platforms

Should you consider a print magazine?
Launching a magazine is not for the faint of heart. Before adding a magazine to your content marketing efforts, you need to think about the endeavor in the context of your content marketing plan. Evaluate your current content efforts, and then consider your best customers: Do they want or need a magazine, and do they have, or will they take time to read longer-form content?

Know thy audience
A print magazine is not for every audience. Your first step is to understand whether your audience will be receptive to print. If your survey, or research, or gut feeling tells you yes, then there is more to consider. Launching a successful publication will depend upon how well you know your target audience. If you have a complete buyer profile, you can better translate those buyer attributes into story ideas that will be engaging. To build reader loyalty, you need a steady stream of interesting, compelling stories that matter to your prospects and customers.

Create engaging content on a schedule
Many B2B marketers say creating engaging content is one of their biggest struggles. You’ll need to come up with a lot of ideas to sustain a magazine longer than a year. If you have trouble coming up with great blog posts or struggle to come up with marketing ideas, I’m here to tell you that a magazine is not any easier. Like any good content, your job here is to provide topics that your readers find useful, relevant, or just plain interesting. In magazine format, that can mean considerably more content than you might be used to creating, and sometimes content that skews longer and is more in-depth than your average blog post, for instance. If there was ever a time to worship your editorial calendar, it’s with a magazine. Lead time with a print magazine is long, and you have to get the ball rolling well in advance of your deadline. Planning is everything, so those of you who are currently “winging it” without a calendar: DANGER.

Tap internal and external resources
If a print magazine fits into your content marketing strategy and you have plenty of ideas for what your ideal buyers and your current audience want to read, the next step is to figure out if you can actually pay for it. You can expect to spend a minimum of $15,000 to $50,000 to launch the first issue and maybe upwards of $250,000 or more if you are hiring an internal team to create the magazine, according to experts. You’ll need a host of specialists: writers, designers, editors, photographers, and print and direct mail experts. It’s quite a task to build a publishing staff that large, so you may be better served to outsource some – or many – of these specialized jobs, or use a hybrid approach. But either way, you do need one person to serve as your managing editor, and that person’s job has to be to keep everything moving. Maybe it’s you, or someone on your staff, but empower him or her to make editorial and design decisions, story length choices, and more, or your “newsroom” (because that’s what you’re really creating here) will come to a halt pretty quickly.

Print: Lead generation tool that drives revenues
If you already have an arsenal of great ideas, a good handle on your buyer personas, and want to bust through the overwhelming amount of digital noise online, a print magazine might be a good vehicle to add to your content marketing efforts. While you may not be as successful as Porter right out of the gate – the profitable magazine has grown subscriptions to 32,000, secured distribution in 60 countries and boasts a circulation of 152,500 – you might at least find you have a genuine lead generation or retention tool that drives new revenue, and that can certainly be labeled as success.

Want to talk about whether a print magazine fits into your content marketing strategy? We can work it through with you.

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